In 2015 we heard more about copyright infringement than ever before. Tom Petty said he contributed to Sam Smith’s success and sued over “Stay With Me,” Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams found themselves in hot water with Marvin Gaye’s family over “Blurred Lines” and most recently Taylor Swift was sued over some of the lines in “Shake it Off.” But what exactly does any of that mean, and how do those suits outcomes effect the artists involved?
In Sam Smith’s case the publishers who control the rights to Tom Petty’s ‘Won’t Back Down’ reached out to Sam Smith’s publishers citing the vast similarities between the two songs’ choruses. After juxtaposing the two works Sam Smith and publishers agree to add Petty and his co-writer’s name to the track as writers and give them credit upon winning any sort of award and share royalties for songwriting on Stay With Me.
This is one side of the coin, the other illustrated through the case of Blurred Lines. In a lawsuit that held the music industry’s attention for a year and a half and ended with Marvin Gaye’s children receiving either $7.3 million in actual damages or $9,000 in statutory damages for Blurred Lines by Thicke and Williams (according to New York Times Article.) The family accused Thicke and Williams of using distinct elements of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit ‘Got To Give It Up’ in the creation of their 2013 chart topping Blurred Lines. This is one of the largest settlements in history, and was ironically brought on when Williams and Thicke tried to gain protection from copyright suits on the song. T.I who is also featured on the track was not named in the suit and will receive full royalties as a performer.
Most recently Taylor Swift was brought to court for copyright of Shake it Off. But, Ms. Swift has been on the other side of these suits several times as well as trademark lawsuits. She sued several fans who were putting up work with her image or likeness on Etsy and trademarked phrases from popular songs off her newest album. The problem being that as copyright holds for longer and longer everyone in the industry is at risk for a suit. We’re at an age where nothing is 100% original- it can’t be. 5 Seconds of Summer took flak for the intro to their song Hey Everybody sounding similarly to Hungry Like the Wolf, but Duran Duran was already getting credit for the similarity as a sample.
Basically looking at copyright is looking at a whole mess of spider webs, but as an artist or person with interest in the industry this is information and regulations we need to know so we can protect ourselves and our artists from getting caught in those webs.
[Image from copyrightfrance.com via Google Images]